BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 08/21/2015

What’s the surprise? Losing in Mariners’ DNA

Six weeks from now, the Mariners will become the franchise gone longest from the postseason, 14 years. No surprise there: bad years are in the club’s DNA.

Fernando Rodney was part of one of the oddest walk-off losses in franchise history this week. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Six weeks and 41 games from now, the Mariners will eclipse the Toronto Blue Jays as the MLB franchise gone the longest from the postseason: 14 friggin’ seasons, or year one (2001) of the Dubya administration.

Icbiro, now 41, was 27. Randy Johnson, five years retired and now in the Hall of Fame, still had eight years left in his tank. Felix Hernandez had yet to turn 15.

Through all of the Bill Bavasi-Jack Zduriencik tumult, eight managers have given Seattle a whirl. No go. And we shouldn’t be counting, but 70 bobblehead giveaways  — or bobblehead fan pacifiers — are also in the books since Seattle’s last postseason.

Expect the obits to include plenty of rehash on the team’s numerous squandered chances, focusing especially on (stats as of Friday) the club’s puny .222 batting average with runners in scoring position, its 21 losses in an opponent’s final at-bat (an MLB-high nine via walk-off), its 21 one-run games, and its nine in extra innings.

Seattle’s lamentable batting ranks are sure to be picked over, as will the past weekend’s astonishing three-game series in Boston. The Mariners yielded a franchise-record 45 runs  to a last-place team, whose No. 9 hitter, Jackie Bradley Jr., became the first in MLB history in that slot with five hits and five runs scored in a single game.

Even with epic losses at Fenway (15-1, 22-10), to say nothing of Joe Beimel yielding historic, if not hysterical, back-to-back-to-back home runs at Texas Wednesday, many tweeters pointed to Monday’s 4-3 loss in Arlington as the season’s nadir, one calling it “one of the saddest days in franchise history.”

That’s saying something, considering that there have been 3,275 losing days in Mariners history, including 281 (nearly two seasons worth) that ended in walk-off defeats. So while opining that Monday’s ranked as one of the “saddest days” in team annals is a bit of a stretch, that one nevertheless holds a special place among the oddest of the 281 walk-offs.

The Mariners and Rangers entered the home ninth tied 3-3. While there is always reason to fear that Fernando Rodney, who has pitched this year as if he’s throwing a medicine ball with his feet mired in mud, will find a way to blow it, there was no way to suspect that he would blow it in quite the manner he did.

Consider: The first batter, Ryan Strausborger, reached on a bunt single. How unlikely was that? Well, Strausborger became the first hitter to reach on a bunt against Rodney since Gregor Blanco of Kansas City beat one out to lead off the eighth Aug. 9, 2010, when Rodney pitched for the Angels.

Given that, who could have possibly predicted that DeLino DeShields would follow Strausborger with another bunt single? Talk about a cluster eff.

Rodney then drilled former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo with a fastball, loading the bases, before walking another ex-Mariner, Adrian Beltre, to lose the game 4-3.

The Mariners have lost many times via walk-off due to home runs, singles, sacrifice flies, wild pitches, walks and errors, including two by Mark McLemore, otherwise a good guy. They have lost a half dozen times on walk-off doubles, twice on walk-off triples, but never on a walk-off balk, so there’s more dubious history still to be made.

The Mariners even once lost — incredibly — on a walk-off strikeout, which must be included among the most stunning and galling walk-off defeats in franchise history, listed here chronologically to demonstrate, if another demonstration is necessary, that bad years are in the Mariners’ DNA.

Two runs on a walk-off wild pitch, April 25, 1991

The Mariners held three leads (1-0, 2-1 and 3-2), taking their final one in the 10th inning when Edgar Martinez scored from third base on a wild pitch by reliever Steve Bedrosian.

However, the Twins loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning with one out. Reliever Mike Jackson threw a slider to Brian Harper that bounced three feet in front and to the right of the plate.

Catcher Dave Valle blocked it, but the ball caromed to his right. Kirby Puckett scored from third. Valle’s throw back to Jackson, covering home, hit Puckett’s leg, and the ball skipped away. That allowed Al Newman to score from second base.

Jackson was charged with an error though he never touched the ball.

“That was a tough situation,” said Seattle manager Jim Lefebvre. “How the hell do we lose like that?”

Walk-off hit by pitch, Aug. 4, 1993

Lou Piniella kicked everything within range in the dugout. He also ripped the bullpen phone off the wall and lifted a heavy plastic water cooler over his head and tossed it in the dugout toilet – all that after Oakland scored three runs in the ninth to turn a 4-2 Mariner lead into a 5-4 loss.

“Some of these guys aren’t capable,” Piniella fumed. “It’s just that simple. Some guys have shown they can’t do the job.”

Leading 4-2 on a three-run homer by Bret Boone in the third and Jay Buhner’s solo shot in the fourth, the Mariners appeared in good shape until Ruben Sierra led off the ninth with a triple off Tim Leary. Piniella quickly brought in Dennis Powell, who walked pinch hitter Lance Blankenship, batting .202.

“That was the worst of it,” Piniella said. “He walked that guy on four stinking pitches.”

Piniella summoned Jeff Nelson, who further irked Piniella by surrendering a first-pitch single to Mile Aldrete, scoring Sierra and sending Blankenship to third. Terry Steinbach  grounded to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who threw home to get Blankenship, only to have catcher Bill Haselman drop the ball for an error.

“A pitch down and in to Aldrete, where he can hit it hard,” Piniella said. “Then Haselman dropped the ball. I don’t know how many times Haselman has dropped the damn ball at the plate. I just don’t know how many.”

With the game even at 4, Craig Paquette was intentionally walked to load the bases and set up a force at any base. Nelson got Scott Lydy to foul out, giving the Mariners a glimmer of an escape. But with a flurry of Oakland signals hinting at a suicide squeeze, a rattled Nelson plunked Mike Bordick to force home the deciding run.

“Disgusting,” Nelson said. “I just came in and tried to be aggressive and nothing worked. That last pitch just completely got away from me. It was terrible.”

Walk-off grand slam, May 17, 1996

Jay Buhner staked the Mariners to a 13-10 lead with a two-run shot off Alan Mills in the ninth at Camden Yards. Pinella stuck with closer Norm Charlton in the bottom half, even though he’d already worked the eighth. Charlton walked Roberto Alomar, struck out Rafael Palmeiro, and ceded a double to Bobby Bonilla.

After retiring Billy Ripken on a fly ball, Charlton walked Cal Ripken to load the bases for Chris Hoiles, the No. 8 hitter batting .225. Charlton quickly turned the count in his favor, going up 1-and-2, and needed another good forkball before ordering party favors. But Charlton missed, left a fastball up and Hoiles deposited it into the seats, giving the Orioles a 14-13 victory.

“It was pitiful,” said Charlton. “I didn’t do my job. Our guys fight back in a great effort, and I let it go to waste. We never should have lost that game.”

At four hours, 20 minutes, this was the longest nine-inning game in Mariners history, and only one minute shy of the major-league record. The Mariners lost despite 20 hits, including an Alex Rodriguez grand slam in the eighth inning.

Walk-off walk after leading 10-5 in 9th, May 27, 1997

Minnesota began its ninth-inning comeback off Mike Maddux when Chuck Knoblauch poked a single to left. Rich Becker followed with a run-scoring double, prompting Piniella to yank Maddux in favor of Bobby Ayala, who immediately threw a wild pitch, allowed a sacrifice fly and a double to Terry Steinbach. A steaming Piniella booted Ayala and brought in Charlton with the Mariners still ahead, 10-7.

But Charlton had nothing, walking Roberto Kelly and then surrendering a three-run homer to Marty Cordova, just off the disabled list, to tie the score 10-10. After that, Charlton still couldn’t find the plate, walking Greg Colbrunn and giving up a single to Pat Meares. That brought Knoblauch to the plate, and Charlton brought him home with five pitches.

“A couple of pitches were close,” Charlton said. “But if I’m all over the place, I shouldn’t expect to get those. I’ve got no excuse.”

Walk-off walk after leading 5-0, Sept. 7, 2005

The Mariners led 5-0 after three innings and were on the verge of sweeping their first series at Oakland since April 2001 before the comeback began against Eddie Guardado (1-2), who blew a save for the third time in 34 chances, and Jeff Nelson, who walked Nick Swisher on a 3-2 pitch.

Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez both hit two-run doubles before Swisher walked with the bases loaded to force in the final run as the Athletics overcame a four-run ninth-inning deficit. Oakland’s 8-7 win was the first of that kind since July 4, 1957 against the Chicago White Sox.

Swisher, who entered as a pinch hitter in the sixth, was in an 0-for-15 slide when he led off the ninth with Oakland trailing 7-3 and singled off J.J. Putz. Mark Ellis walked, and Guardado relieved and gave up a single to Jason Kendall that loaded the bases.

“For me, it was ugly, a nightmare,” said Guardado.

Only walk-off loss on a strikeout, Sept. 29, 2010

This is the only game in franchise history – there have been 6,152 since the inaugural season of 1977 through Wednesday — that the Mariners lost by striking out a batter.

The Mariners and Rangers entered the ninth at The Ballpark in Arlington tied 5-5. Journeyman Dan Cortes took over for Seattle and recorded two quick outs, getting Jorge Cantu and Jeff Francoeur on fly balls. Everything might have been good if Cortes hadn’t  walked Mitch Moreland, because that set up one of the bizarre endings in franchise history.

Nelson Cruz came to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Texas with 22 home runs to his credit, but Cortes struck out the slugger swinging. Unfortunately for Cortes, his pitch, ultimately ruled wild, bounced past backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz.

Quiroz retrieved the ball and tried to throw out Cruz, running to first, but the ball sailed down the right-field line. Moreland never broke stride, racing home from first base just ahead of Ichiro’s throw.

“I can’t ever remember losing a game the way I just saw it,” said Seattle manager Daren Brown.

If you’re keeping score, Seattle’s all-time record in walk-off games is 66-281.

 


YourThoughts

  • Talkjoc

    Good Lord Steve, thanks for reminding Mariner fans how bad we suck. Wish just ONCE that Lloyd would call out these guys. Other than Cruz, Cano. Seager, Starting pitchers, the rest are Triple-A at best. Management team should be DFA’d.

    • art thiel

      Just wanted you to know the suffering that has gone on before.

  • Sam Base

    There’s nothing I hate more than walk-off losses. Nothing. Needless to say, I barely made it through the article with my sanity intact. I do, however, need to lie down for a good long while….wake me up in 2030, mid-summer, and I’ll check the standings to see if it’s safe to get up.

    • art thiel

      2030? Mariners will have advanced to 2nd in AL West by then. Too early?

  • dingle

    Steve – Thanks for giving me a reason to start drinking early on a Friday.

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  • Tian Biao

    It’s the nature of a sports fan, especially a baseball fan, to be ever-hopeful, even though deep down, on a logical level, we all know better, because we were around for all those losses that Steve has painstakingly listed. At the beginning of the year, we all knew that Lincoln was still in charge and that Zduriencik can’t judge talent, but still, there was an element of irrational hope. that’s what makes this year so hard to take.

    • art thiel

      Well said. Attendance is up more than 5,000 a game based on that irrationality — and some logic.

  • Effzee

    What is the all-time W-L record with Howard Lincoln as part of the Front Office?

    • art thiel

      I’m guessing you’re not far off.

    • Trygvesture

      Sounds right– and sounds like the only possible way to interpret the coin-tossings at offense that was so untypically part of the Howardship reign. Now what happens? He shot his wad– again with a clean miss, as usual–and now what? Does he distribute blame to Z and Lloyd, huddle with that baseball wizard he promoted to president of the Baseball Club, write snarky memos to the staff, blame Art and Geoff and Steve and, dug in again, continue to hit himself in the head with his own bat — at our expense? Seems like it’s likely the time to haul out the old “I’m on the hot seat” pandering he’s used before.

      Still, it is with relish that we can anticipate his next move– it’s gotta be a personal best in futility and ill advised PR at this point. I’ll be disappointed with less.

  • Jamo57

    I will always argue that Lou Pinella is a HOF manager. I understand winning one World Series does not constitute a HOF career, but he was the only manager to get this franchise into the post season as we all know. And surely it was from a sheer force of his will that he was able to accomplish that. And not once but FOUR TIMES!

    Sadly, no one outside of Seattle realizes how significant that really is and I am fairly certain he will never be enshrined in Cooperstown. Good ol’ Lou is enough of a gentleman to act sincerely grateful to be inducted into the Ms HOF. But deep down he has to wonder what might have been.

  • Rj Smith

    Speaking of a losing culture….. so it’s the 6th inning & Princess Felix has allowed FOUR runs & the M’s are being thoroughly dominated by a REAL ACE….. Felix taking a dump on the fans again, why am I not surprised?

  • Lodowick

    Great research, Steve, and great sportswriting. Painful can be both funny and illuminating, even uplifting, kinda like Greek tragedy. Nobody has died yet. But what a rich milieu, Seattle Mariner sad sack Chaplinesque comedy.

  • 1coolguy

    Lincoln is the common thread. The guy may have been a success at Nintendo but he is an absolute failure with the M’s. I simply do not understand why he doesn’t admit he doesn’t have it and walks away. Very, very strange.

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